FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

FIFA has invited football's national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the international calendar, in its push to hold the World Cup every 2 years. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 September 2021

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

  • World football's governing body wants to launch a "new consultation phase" for the international women's and men's calendar
  • UEFA president is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup

PARIS: FIFA has invited football’s national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the international calendar, in its push to hold the World Cup every two years instead of four.
World football’s governing body wants to launch a “new consultation phase” for the international women’s and men’s calendar, set to expire at the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively.
“There is a broad consensus within the game that the international match calendar should be reformed and improved,” FIFA said in a statement Monday.
“Following invitations to stakeholders, including all confederations, at the beginning of September, discussions are being organized in the coming weeks.
“FIFA also invited its member associations to a first online summit on 30 September 2021. This is one of several opportunities to establish a constructive and open debate, at a global and regional level, over the coming months.”
The proposal for a biennial World Cup was revived in March by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football development at FIFA.
The idea would be to have an international tournament each year from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championship and Copa America.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup.
South American confederation CONMEBOL said the project had “no sporting justification.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has promised decisions on staging a World Cup every two years would be made by the end of the year.
Last week FIFA published an online poll that claimed a majority of football fans support the idea of a “more frequent” World Cup.
The results of the survey came in stark contrast to the opposition of numerous national supporters groups worldwide.
Global players’ union FIFPro has denounced “the absence of a real dialogue” on the subject, pointing out the “natural physiological limits” of footballers.
“Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy,” said FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Updated 58 min 42 sec ago

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

  • The launch of Al Thumama stadium comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup
  • Qatar has so far officially inaugurated 5 of the 8 stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East

DOHA: Qatar inaugurated on Friday its fifth stadium for the 2022 World Cup, welcoming thousands of spectators who have either recently recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated.
The launch of the Al Thumama stadium, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the capital Doha, comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The 40,000-seat ground, which will host groups matches during Qatar 2022 up to the quarter-finals, hosted the domestic Emir Cup final between local clubs Al Rayyan and Al Sadd as its inaugural match.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony.
It was designed by Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah to resemble the ‘gahfiya’ cap, traditionally worn by men in the region.
Energy-rich Qatar has so far officially inaugurated five of the eight stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
In addition to Al Thumama, Qatar has so far inaugurated new-build Ahmad Bin Ali, Al-Janoub and Education City stadiums alongside the refurbished Khalifa ground in the heart of Doha’s Aspire Zone.
Ras Abu Aboud, Al Bayt, Lusail, which will host the final match in December 2022, remain to be opened.
Following the World Cup, Al Thumama’s capacity will be reduced to 20,000, with a sports clinic and a boutique hotel set to open on site.
Fans were able to apply for tickets to Friday’s event if they either tested positive for virus antibodies, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Qatar, which says it vaccinated more than three quarters of its 2.75 million population, has recorded more than 238,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.


Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

  • Graeme Jones confirmed Friday he has been asked to take charge of the next two Premier League games
  • Jones feels Newcastle supporters have plenty to look forward to under the club’s ambitious new owners

NEWCASTLE: Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi have assured Newcastle United interim manager Graeme Jones he has a long-term future at the football club.

The Magpies have been working their way through a list of managerial candidates, following the “mutual consent” departure of Steve Bruce on Wednesday.

And on Friday, assistant Jones, promoted to the top job for the next two games, spoke of his pride at being handed the reins on a temporary basis at his boyhood club.

Ahead of the trip to Crystal Palace, former England coach Jones revealed his midweek meeting with PCP Capital Partners’ Staveley and Ghodoussi, who collectively own 10 percent of the football club, brought more than the news of his temporary promotion.

Jones said: “I spoke to the owners on Wednesday morning, and obviously they asked me to take the team on an interim basis for the next two games, Crystal Palace (tomorrow) and Chelsea at home (on Saturday, Oct. 30).

“As I’ve said previously, I’m fully focused on preparing the team as best I can, and being competitive in games.”

Jones, whose only managerial experience came during an ill-fated spell at Championship outfit Luton Town in 2019/20, continued: “I’ve had assurances, I have spoken to Mehrdad and I’ve spoken to Amanda — and I’ve been given assurances on my long-term future.

“My short-term thought process is about what I can do, this weekend and next Saturday. I think it is important for everyone going forward, I can give my genuine best in any role I’m given, starting tomorrow at Crystal Palace.”

Jones, at this stage at least, has made it clear he does not want to take the job on a permanent basis. It is unlikely he’d be offered those terms anyway, instead he would be integrated into a new coach’s model.

“I am very happy,” he said of his role at United. “I was very happy working as an assistant here. I am here just to give my best. Everything I have got for this football club, and I mean that.

“Of course, the level of responsibility has gone up.The gaffer (Bruce) has always trusted myself, Aggers and Clem to do things in the week, but now you have to pick the team. That’s what’s changed. I’ve obviously had to give that a little bit of thought.”

Newcastle United sit 19th in the Premier League table heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.

A win over Patrick Vieira’s Eagles would see United potentially climb out of the top-flight relegation zone.

The Magpies are yet to win any of their opening eight games of the Premier League season.

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Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Updated 22 October 2021

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

  • Five men were arrested after the incident that left the 63-year-old City fan hospitalized
  • The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday

BRUGGE, Belgium: Manchester City’s supporter who was attacked on his way home from the team’s Champions League match against Club Brugge in Belgium has been upgraded to “stable” condition though he remains in a coma, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested after the incident that left 63-year-old City fan Guido De Pauw, who is Belgian, hospitalized after being attacked in a parking lot at a service station late Tuesday after City’s 5-1 win.
One suspect was charged with theft with violence and theft with aggravated violence, another with intentional beatings and incapacitating injuries, and all five with culpable negligence, the East Flanders prosecutor’s office said in a statement released Friday.
The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday. Three have been released under strict conditions, including a ban on attending soccer matches, and two remained detained, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Wednesday De Pauw had “life-threatening injuries.” In their latest update, they said he was “still in a coma but his condition is now stable.”
City has said the club is working with police in Belgium and Manchester to establish more information about the incident.
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared at a news conference on Friday wearing a T-shirt that had the message, ‘We’re with you, Guido.”
“In the last hours he is getting better and of course he has all of the support from the club on what they need for the investigation,” Guardiola said.
“A big hug for him and all his family. We wish that soon he will come back to Etihad Stadium.”


Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Updated 22 October 2021

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

  • Karim Benzema’s lawyers said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case
  • Prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros for the French international

VERSAILLES: Lawyers for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on Friday dismissed charges against him over an attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
They said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case.
A verdict in the trial will be announced on November 24.
On the last day of hearings, being held in Versailles outside Paris, Benzema’s lawyers claimed the prosecution had failed to provide evidence to convict the star of complicity in an attempt to blackmail.
“One can ask what really interests French people in this case? Sex? Money? Football? Not the judicial element in any case,” lawyer Antoine Vey told the court, adding that the prosecution’s case had been built around Valbuena’s “feelings.”
Addressing the judge, he added: “It’s never too late to do some law. You are the final safeguard.”
Benzema’s other lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, criticized a “media-judicial circus.”
The prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros ($87,000) for the 33-year-old France international, who has not appeared during the three days of hearings which began on Wednesday.
Benzema, who is expected to play this weekend against Barcelona in the Classico, is one of five people on trial over the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial Wednesday, Valbuena said the affair — which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team — had left him feeling “frightened” and fearful for his career.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training center in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to “manage” the issue of the video.
Prosecutors claim Benzema was working with the other accused, including a childhood friend from his hometown Lyon.
In a wiretapped conversation, he told the friend who is accused of acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that “he’s not taking us seriously.”
The prosecution claims this shows Benzema was complicit, but his lawyer said Friday the exchange showed the footballer was “not an example of total contrition” during the conversation.
“We never said he was being kind... but it is not a criminal offense,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied involvement, asking why he would get involved.
“I have enough money. I don’t need it,” he said.


Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

Updated 22 October 2021

Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

  • The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September
  • The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing has begun offering booster shots against COVID-19, four months before the city and surrounding regions are to host the Winter Olympics.
Anyone 18 or older who have received two-dose Chinese vaccines and belong to at-risk groups, including those participating, organizing or working on games facilities, would be eligible for the additional shot, state media reported Friday.
The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September, but Beijing authorities have been extra cautious in who receives the extra jab.
The games are set to begin on Feb. 4 with only residents of China allowed in the stands. Indoor events with sliding, skiing and jumping will be held in the suburb of Yanqing and the neighboring city of Zhangjiakou.
China has been largely successful in preventing local transmission through strict requirements on mask wearing, quarantining and contact tracing. Cases continue to pop up however, with 28 new ones reported Friday, including one in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai.
The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, leading to a total lockdown that affected more than 50 million people.
China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and stymying investigations into the coronavirus’ origins, although it said earlier this week that it would cooperate with a renewed investigation by the World Health Organization while “firmly opposing any forms of political manipulation.”
WHO on Wednesday released a proposed list of 25 experts to advise it on next steps in the search for the virus’ origins after its earlier efforts were attacked for going easy on China.